A few months ago, at an event I was presenting at someone came up to me and asked: What is wrong with person first language? We have people with brown hair and blond hair; We have people with brown eyes and we have people with different coloured skin, isn’t that the same as having autism?
At the time I was asked these questions I had difficulty explaining why I prefer being referred to as someone on the autism spectrum and as being autistic rather than someone ‘with autism’. This person claimed that having brown eyes was the same as being on the spectrum however this is not true, and I am about to explain why. Can you be a person with gay, bi or lesbian? Can you be a person with American or Australian? Can you be a person with boy or girl? No, you can’t because that just doesn’t make sense not to mention it isn’t correct English so why can we have people ‘with autism’? When people refer to me or anyone else on the autism spectrum as someone ‘with autism’ It sounds as though we are sick, or we have some sort of disease. It sounds like we need to be ‘cured’ and treated differently. This wording makes a lot of people on the spectrum very uncomfortable because we are currently being treated as though we are sick. As though we have some sort of disease that needs to be fixed. We are being treated as having ‘special needs’ in schools and workplaces making it extremely hard for us to show people what we can do.
Being on the autism spectrum I am part of a worldwide community. We are Autistic, and we are not sick or ‘special’ we just have different abilities. We view this world differently and sometimes being autistic has its challenges however a cure for autism may also mean wiping out the amazing talent autism brings to this world. A cure might mean that we never make it to Mars or find the cure for Cancer. It may mean we never get to see another Mozart or Charles Darwin. It is not a cure we need it is acceptance and inclusion. Being Autistic is the same as being American or Australian. The Autism community is just another community in this diverse world attempting to make it a better place. Person first language may be the way all the books tell you to describe people on the spectrum however, it is a better practice to just ask the person you are talking to how they prefer to be described as everyone is unique.
Autism Advocate, Blogger, Speaker
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(Please note this is my own opinion and does not reflect the views of all autistic people as everyone has different preferences.)